How to Settle the Irish Question

And Our Imperial Problem

George Bernard Shaw February 1 1918

How to Settle the Irish Question

And Our Imperial Problem

George Bernard Shaw February 1 1918

How to Settle the Irish Question

And Our Imperial Problem

George Bernard Shaw

II.—The Folly of Ulster

EDITOR'S NOTEThe fint article in the series by Mr. Shaw, “The Folly of Sinn Fein," appeared in the last issue. Herewith Mr. Shaw presents his solution of the Irish Question and at the same time lays down a broad basis of Imperial Government which would apply to all parts of the British Empire

IT the is in English the power Parof liament to re-

establish the Irish National Parliament in Dublin and place Ulster in the position of having either to accept the government of that parliament or undertake a rebellion which would be a rebellion against England no less than against Ireland. This does not trouble Ulster much. She is fully as rebellious as any other province. What is more, she could carry such rebellion through if only her front were united. The Speaker’s writ would not run in Antrim if Antrim were solid on the point of treating it as a scrap of paper. All the rest of Ireland could not coerce a united Ulster; and to repeat the original sin that delivered Ireland into England’s hands by calling in English soldiers to coerce Irishmen would be morally impossible. There is quite as much fight in Ulster as in Sinn Fein. Ulster may not love the Drak Rosaleen, but it hates the Virgin Mary. It does not want to die for Ireland. On the contrary it believes that all the people who die for Ireland go straight to hell; but it wants to send them there and have the island to itself. “No surrender” is burnt so deep in its brain that it still chalks that dogged phrase up on the walls as if it were only yesterday King William’s ships burst the boom, and the hosts of King James scattered and left Derry starving butvictorious. Ulster

children still repeat the derisive doggerel

“Sleether slaughther, holy wather”; and the adults are as determined as ever that “the Protestant boys shall carry the drum.” As a Protestant myself (and a little to spare), I am highly susceptible to the spirit that these cries express; and, though I know that King William is as dead as Bloody Mary, and that, if it should turn out rather unexpectedly that the old Ulster brimstone hell actually exists, all the thoroughgoing

Protestants of Ulster will most assuredly spend eternity in it for usurping the divine judgment seat, yet if it come to a fight between the north and south, I will back Ulster to at least deadlock any military force that Catholic Ireland can bring against her. I believe that a united Ulster could hold the Protestant countries against Dublin Parliament and form an independent state like the little republic of «Andorra. It could not, of course, force Ulster members on the English Parliament. It could not do the thing by halves, it would have to cut the London painter as completely as the Dublin one. But it could absolutely ignore and boycott College Green, and beat Home Rule by Homer Rule, if I may put it in that way. And in its consciousness of this lies the strength of its “We won’t have it” and the Cromwellian force of its rendering of “0, God, our help in ages past”

But there is the IF to be got over—IF Ulster were united. Now Sir John Lonsdale has no misgivings on that score.

' He has told us that on this question he and his poorest laborer will stand shoulder to shoulder to the death. He has no prevision of what very cold shoulders they would be when the situation began to develop.

For Sir John Lonsdale, speaking authentically with the voice of Protestant Ulster, never was more mistaken in his life than he is about the permanence of that solidarity of his with his poorest laborer. He is obsessed with an illusion as gross as the megalomaniac illusions of Sinn Fein; and

so is his meanest laborer. Hence their present solidarity. They have a penny dreadful vision of an Irish Parliament establishing the Inquisition, setting up the stakes of Smithfield, massacring the Protestant infants, condemning all the maids of Ulster to the doom of Maria Monk, inviting the Pope to transfer the Vatican to Maynooth, exempting the priests from the jurisdiction of civil courts, making mixed marriages illegal, reviving the penal laws with the boot on the other leg, and crushing the shipyards of Belfast by huge import duties on steel, raw materials, and everything English, whilst dispensing unheard of bounties to farmers, graziers, dairymen, and convent workshops.

Now no doubt if an Irish Parliament behaved in this insane manner, Ulster would be solid against it. So would the rest of Ireland. That is why the Irish Parliament will not behave so, even if it wants to. For a long time it will be mortally afraid to touch the religious question at all; but if at last it is driven to do so by the abuses which the irresponsible power and wealth of the Catholic Church have produced (it is really worse than the Established Church of England just because it is not State-established and Stateregulated, as every national church ought to be; for it is not even an Irish national Church) its operation would be exactly like those of all other jealous secular governments in Europe. That is, they would consist of curtailments of the power of the clergy, reduction of fees for masses and for birth, death and marriage services, inspection and regulation of school and convent workshops, and an interference with the multiplication of religi-

ous houses which may go to the length even of suppression. The notion that a democratically constituted modern secular authority ever has or ever will use its power for its rival, the Church, or even refrain for long from disabling, if not actually plundering, the Church, is, to say the least, extremely unhistorical. As to the shipbuilding industry, if Belfast ever loses it, it will be because the great gantries will have flown to the Atlantic coast, which, when St. George’s Channel and the Straits of Dover are tunneled and bridged by aeroplanes, will be the extreme west coast of the Eurasian continent. Its magnificent natural harborages will tempt shipbuilding capital from all over the world, beginning, let us hope for the honor of Protestant enterprises, with Belfast. Harland and Wolff, if they are not hopelessly extinct volcanoes, must have already surveyed all the great Atlantic Bays, from Blacksod and Killary to Kenmare and Bantry, with a view to those imminent possibilities.

T N opposition to the Sinn Fein cry of Fiscal Autonomy, Ulster raises the' cry of Fiscal Unity. It is just as inconsiderate a folly as the other; there can be neither fiscal unity nor fiscal autonomy between Ireland and Britain. What both parties are thinking about is the old tariff wars between England and Ireland, put a stop to by Adam Smith and William Pitt. Irish imagination is still in the eighteenth century, when it is not in the seventeenth. The danger now is not that these wars will be revived by Home Rule or no Home Rule, but that Irish industries may be involved in tariff wars between England and the Great Powers, in which the interests of Ireland will be as little considered as those of the Blasket Islands. Ireland needs fiscal autonomy enough to keep herself out of these wars, and fiscal unity enough not to be kept out of anything good that may be going in other directions. Ulster should study the tariff reform movement in England a little before shouting her rash ultimatum.

That movement was a very simple one. The manufacturing Midlands in England wanted to manufacture everything that was used in England, and demanded a tariff to keep foreign goods out. The coast towns of England, being maritime carriers, wanted everything used in England manufactured abroad, and everything made in England sent abroad to pay for it. That, and not the principles of free trade, which nobody in the country understood or cared about (except Mr. Balfour, who was forced by his party to go back on it), was what defeated the Tariff Reform League. Now Belfast is a coast town and dockyard, as overwhelmingly interested in free trade as Portsmouth or Southampton. Its demands for fiscal unity with the Midlands, which are only biding their time for another attempt and may succeed in it, is suicidal imbecility. What it needs is free trade with the other island, and a free hand to maintain free trade with the rest of the world whether the other island discards it or not. One would think that so obvious a point could not have escaped a moderately intelligent hen, much less a community that prides itself on its hard-headedness as Ulster does. That is what comes of thinking about King William and his ally, the Pope, when you should be thinking about the Tariff Reform League.

But when Ulster comes to her

senses on the t a r i ff question, her solidarity will still be unimpaired ; for here Sir John Lonsdale’s interest is also that of his poorest laborer.

All Ulster’s power of ignoring the Irish and defying the Eng1 i s h Parliament rests, as we have seen, on this solidarity; and it is clearly not the fiscal question that will break the united front. What will break it with ridiculous ease and suddenness is something that neither Ulster nor Sinn Fein forsees, because it is something that is hardly half a century old, to wit, socialism in parliament. When Parnell began his agitation there was no notion that men working for weekly wages could become cabinet ministers, that Labor Parties should not only exist in British Parliaments but hold office there, that Socialist leaders in office, even at the head of Governments, should become too common throughout Europe to be worth mentioning; all this seems still as incredible and unnatural to the Ulster Protestant as the story of Noah's Ark or the adventure of Jonah seem plausible and natural enough to be of the essence of religious truth.

But Ulster’s incredulity, which it usually calls its faith, cannot keep labor and socialism out of an Irish Parliament. And at the first breath of socialism the solidarity of Ulster will vanish like the mirage it is. The Ulster employers could say, no doubt, “We shall not put up an Ulster Protestant to contest a seat in this parliament of rebels and our workmen will see that no Catholic does it: so there will be no election.” But what about a labor candidate, with his Fabian pamphlets and his labor manifestos, and his Whitley report in favor of management by joint committees of employers and workmen, and his eight-hour day, and his minimum wage, and his denunciation of profiteering, and his skillful irritant touch on all the open sores, the continual nibbling at the piece-work rate, the sweating, the victimization, the unemployment, the slum death rates and rack rents and so forth, culminating in the glad news that the seat can be won for labor without a blow, as the employers are sulking against Home Rule and are allowing their “hands” a walkover at the polls? Is it not clear that the Ulster boycott of the Irish Parliament would break down at the very first glimpse of the possibility of this, and that the employers would rush to contest all the seats, and, if they won them, would be only too glad to combine in the Irish Parliament with the Catholic farmers of the south to curb the pretensions of the industrial proletariat?

THUS Ulster’s “We won’t have it” turns out,.the moment it is confronted with the realities of modern life, instead of the grudges and bigotries of 1689, to he the idlest of petulances. Without violating a single letter of Mr. Lloyd George’s pledge that Ulster shall never be coerced, the Irish Parliament will assimilate Belfast as easily as a whale assimilates a herring. The dream of passive resistance is as impracticable as that irresistible blow which the Sinn Fein volun-

teers think they can strike at the British Empire.

Some Ulster Die-Hards will not flinch from this demonstration. They will say, “What you have convinced us of is that we must not be content with passive res i s t a n c e. We must make war on the south; and we will.” To which I reply, simply, “You won’t. You can’t afford to. Look at your figures. There is more money in Irish butter and cattle than in Irish ships and textiles. And if you did, all you would have achieved would be P’-otestant Home Rule, with all the rest of Ireland to hold down, and all the rest of the Empire against you. No doubt you are as ready to take on that job as Sinn Fein is to conquer England.”

When the Sultan of Zanzibar ordered the admiral of his second-hand penny steamboat to go out and sink the British fleet and the poor devil actually went, we laughed. There is always something exhilarating in the infatuation of a heroic ignoramus. No doubt Ireland, north and south, teems with Zanzibar courage. Sir Edward Carson has not a jot more sense than Conolly and President Pearce. Before the war he had the consolation of believing that the little handful of officers of the British army would refuse to fight against Ulster. They are a pretty big handful now; and both north and south, by lifting up a finger, could find experienced officers enough to lead all the volunteers that Ireland could produce if they were fools enough to think that the Irish question could be settled to-day as it was when the English King was beaten at the Boyne by the Dutch King and the Pope.

Thus we see that the Ulster variety, of Sinn Fein, like the southern one, has not a leg to stand on. But, of the two, Ulster is far more in the grip of international industrial civilization than the other provinces. Agricultural Ireland, with Sir Horace Plunkett and the Irish Agricultural Organization Society to teach it; is actually building a new co-operative civilization for itself out of the resources of the Irish soil and climate. Belfast is up to its neck in the old nineteenth century form of industry that is dependent for its materials, as for its cash nexus, on the international capitalist civilization of which it is a part. Mr. George Russell could make out a serious case for a selfsufficient south with his Irish Homestead as its trade paper. Sir John Lonsdale could not make out the shadow of a case for the power of Ulster to say, “We won’t have it” to any industrial group ;5n earth, in England or Ireland or out of them, unless the “we” means “you and I.” It is this very dependence that makes Ulster cling to the union and dread separation.

Well, there is not going to be any separation. On the contrary there is going to be much more union than ever there was before. That will become apparent in the next article, when I will give the obvious solution of the problem. ■

In the article starting on the opposite page Mr. Shaw proceeds to expound what he believes would fairly and effectually solve the problem.

III.—The Solution

EVEN more important than the setting up of an Irish Parliament is the abolition of the now quite obsolete parliament at Westminster that calls itself an Imperial Parliament, and is neither Imperial nor national nor English nor Scottish nor Irish, neither flesh nor fowl nor good red herring. It was hopelessly beaten by its work in the old days of laisser faire, when it was believed that the secret of government was not to govern. To-day, when it has been discovered that the secret of government is to let nothing alone, it has been reduced to absurdity; and the country is being governed partly by the major-generals, and partly by bodies unknown to the constitution. There is only one Dublin Castle in Ireland.

There are a dozen in England. When is that wretched country going to insist on enjoying Irish liberty? Sir Horace Plunkett has not to demand Home Rule for Ireland, he has to offer it to England, to Scotland, and even to Wales, if Wales cares for it.

At present the four nations are supposed to be governed by an Anglo-Scottish-IrishWelsh Parliament in which the Irish, though representing only one-tenth of the population of the whole and less than a third of the area, has more than a sixth of the membership; holds the balance of power; and occupies so much of the time of the House that its business seems to consist mainly of Irish legislation and the discussion of Irish grievances, though Ireland is in every way a happier and freer country to live in than England. The Irish members also interfere extensively in English and Scottish business, but are so successful in keeping Ireland out of British arrangements that until very lately Irish clocks did not keep the same time as English ones. Irish laborers and small cultivators live in cottages built for them out of public funds whilst the English navvies and skilled workers in the building trade pay half a crown a week for half a bed in a room containing six or eight inmates and are fortunate if they can find even this accommodation within two miles of their job. Any nation less sheepish than the English would have cut the cable long ago and insisted on having a Parliament of its own for its own affairs.

THEREFORE, the first step for Ireland is to force Home Rule on England as a measure of common humanity and good political sense. Scotland will not refuse a Scottish Parliament; and Wales can have one if she wants. But Ireland will not let England go quite free. Her military forces are too valuable an asset, and Ireland has too much to gain, as we have seen, by pooling services and pooling rent with the other island. Besides, England, left to herself, would go to the devil politically; and her fate would involve the others. There must be, there-

fore, a federal parliament in addition to the national parliaments; and in this federal parliament of the British Isles Ireland will retain her representation, and probably continue to occupy more than her share of attention.

But she will have a further representation. The empire (for convenience sake I use that offensive and inaccurate term) will be held together by a conference which will be a new experiment in democracy, forced on us by the fact that the Dominions will not stand the imposition on them of a central body with legislative

or coercive powers of any sort. This conference will be a representative body ; and its business will be to consider the affairs of the Empire as a whole, and to recommend necessary simultaneous measures to the federal parliament. It must consist of representative statesmen from all the countries concerned, including Ireland, which will thus have her national parliament, her representation in the federal parliament, and her place on the Imperial conference. The Irishmen who want anything less than this are clearly separatist; and, I repeat, separation is out of the question, as it would leave England with as strong a hold over Ireland as over Belgium, whilst Ireland would have no hold over England at all.

FROM the moment the word convention was mentioned, it was clear to those who knew the history of such conventions

thyt the federal solution was inevitable. The British North America Act was the outcome of the Quebec convention. The Australian Commonwealth was the outcome of the Sydney convention. When the Irish talk of “Dominion Home Rule,” they seldom know very accurately what Dominion Home Rule is, because neither in the Canadian, Australian, nor the New Zealand federations, nor in the Union of South Africa, is there anything like the ridiculous Home Rule bill on which Parnell and the Irish parliamentary party wasted .‘10 years of ignoble squabbling, only to find, when it came to the point, that Ireland wants genuine national selfgovernment and not a grudged latchkey given with an intimation that the door will be bolted at half past ten every night. What “Dominion Home Rule” means is, roughly, that Ireland is to be like Canada and Australia and South Africa, and not like Egypt and India. And this means a federation of the British Islands. Later on the Eastern Empire will have to be dealt with; and whoever cannot see the importance of having the Irish question settled before then on lines which will make the Western Empire as free and homogeneous as possible is not much of a statesman This solution sweeps Catholic Sinn Fein and Ulster Sinn Fein into the same dustbin. The childish parochialism of “Weourselves” and “Wewon’t have it” becomes ridiculous when Ireland is seen in its relation to the political system of which it forms a part. It is no use pretending that what is good enough for England, for Scotland, for Quebec, for Ontario, for Sydney, for New South Wales (not to go outside the Empire to the United States) is not good enough for Ireland. Ireland sulking in a corner by herself is nothing; Ireland with her finger in every pie will gather more than her share of plums.

ONE result will be that Ireland will cease to be republican. Being a republican myself I think this a pity. But it is impossible to ignore the steady resistance of the Dominions to the substitution of any other link than the Crown for the Britannic Alliance (as the Fabian Society calls the Empire). The explanation is plain enough. The “Crowned Republic,” which is the hollowest of journalistic phrases in England, is a reality in Australia, in South Africa and in Canada. There the career is open to male political ambition and female social ambition as completely as in any republic, which is very far from being the case in London. And the control of the King is negligible, whereas that of a Roosevelt might be formidable. Now this is precisely the state of things that will be produced in Ireland by federal Home Rule. We are thus within easy distance of the time when England, seething with republicanism, will have the Crown firmly held down on her writhing brows by all the other members of the Britannic Alliance, headed vociferously by Ireland. General

Smuts has voiced for us the cry of the Empire overseas: No Imperial

Federation, and No Republicanism. Let Mr. de Valera take counsel accordingly. It may be the fate of America, with France and Russia, to impose the discrowned republic on Ireland and the other crowned republics as Mr. Wilson has (between the lines of his reply to the Pope) threatened to impose it on Germany. But Ireland will certainly not impose it on England, nor even want to when she is restored to normal political health by federal Home Rule.

SIR HORACE PLUNKETT, then, must draft his bill to establish federal Home Rule not only in Ireland, but in England and Scotland as well. It will not be necessary to consult England. Nobody ever does consult her about her own business. And she will swallow it as she has swallowed the Defence of the Realm Act and the bureaucratic autocracy of the new departments. Scotland will not object The days when no Scot leaving his country to make his career ever took a return ticket are passing. Scotland will ac-

quiesce. The danger is not that the scheme will be rejected, but that the new national parliament may be weakened, and the federal parliament the London Parliament, unduly exalted by an excessive provincialism. Dreamy Ulster,

steeped in its glorious, pious, and immortal memories, has not noticed that there is a far stronger case for giving separate provincial legislatures to the industrial north and the residential south of England, than for doing as much for the north and south of Ireland. It is now many years since Mr. H. G. Wells woke up the Fabian Society to the fact that the units of local government in England are too small, and their boundaries (often passing down the middle of a main street city thoroughfare) absurdly obsolete. If the Fabians found it necessary to propose a Heptarchy for public local industrial organization in Britain it will be easy to trump up a case for two parliaments. But if the statesmen who wish to magnify the central powers are allowed to confuse national with local government, and there be a multiplication of provincial parliaments sufficient to reduce these parliaments to the level of County Councils, even a federal Home Rule bill will be wasted as far as the satisfaction of national sentiment in Ireland is concerned. Both in England and Ireland the present system of local government by counties will have to develop into local government by industrial watersheds, so to speak; but the divisions of these will most certainly not follow the divisions of the existing provinces; and provincial parliaments or even councils would become a serious obstacle to the scientific reorganization of local government which will soon become inevitable. There would be ten times more sense in making two separate Irish Parliaments for agricultural Ireland and city Ireland (say Belfast, Cork and Dublin) than for making one parliament for Antrim and another for Donegal. If England likes to split herself into north and south the harm will not be very great, as there is no national

question involved, and the division would be in no sense a secession. Besides, either half would still contain about five times as many people as the whole of Ireland. But in Ireland no national division is possible. The internal model there must be the Union of South Africa, not the federation o f Australia and British North America. Even the South African provincial councils would have to be very cautiously adopted in Ireland, where national homogeneity must be absolutely unbroken unless the old troubles are to begin all over again.

Neither this nor any other scheme is compatible with impossibilism in the French sense. Impossibilism or extremism, is only a cloak for the anarchism which makes crude peoples afraid to be governed at all, and which is responsible for most of the miseries of England. Parliamentary self-government is not liberty, but a means by which capable men with character enough to use it, courage enough to face the inevitable risks of majority rule, and sense enough to see that the alternative of minority or foreign rule is still more risky, can secure what liberty is possible to individuals in civilized society under that tyranny of nature and daily need against which no political constitutions can avail. Whether the Irish have that capacity, that character, that courage, that common sense, will be proved at the convention. To all communities the lack of it is betrayed by one infallible sign; and that is the demand for security. Let the Irish factions remember that they cannot have liberty and security together any more than the English can. The men of Devonshire, being in a minority in England, must take their chance of the English Parliament passing a law that all persons speaking with the Devonshire accent instead of the Oxford affectation shall have their noses cut off. The members of the Countess of Huntingdon’s persuasion must risk the establishment of the Mohammedan faith and the Roman Catholics must risk the revival of the Elizabethan persecutions. If they were not willing to face these risks they would simply be unfit for free institutions, and have to be placed upon the tutelage as “non-adult.”

And if Ulster Protestants are not prepared to take the risks of parliamentary government, then what they need politically is neither . Home Rule nor Union, but a sufficiency of paternally managed orphan asylums.

For the Union offers them far less security than Home Rule.

The Catholics have been able to force the London Parliament to desert them. They are in an insignificant minority there; and as to their wealth and commercial enterprise, do they really believe that the monstrous cities in which Birmingham and Wolverhampton, nay, Lancashire and Cheshire, are swallowed together as mere parishes, can see Belfast without the aid of a magnifying glass? In Ireland Belfast is formidable. In England Belfasts are six a penny, though the doughty Scot (pro-

bably of Ulster parentage) whose comment on London was “Peebles for me,” is cherished in England as a legendary figure with affectionate admiration — which, however, butters no parsnips. If Ulster is not fit for self-government, it may as well be tyrannized over by the Pope as by Dublin, Castle. In fact the hand of the Pope is heavier on it at this moment than the hand of the Castle. It will never beat the Pope, except by means of an Irish Parliament; and it will not beat him that way if it is cowardly enough to tie the hands of the Irish Parliament in respect of religion. There is no clause in the Home Rule bill that condemns it more conclusively than the cowardly and insulting clause that attempts to shut out religious organization from the competence of the miserable Committee-with-a-Reference which it offers as an organ of national government. By all means let us have that part of the Australian clause 116 which forbids the setting up of religious tests and other forms of persecution, but not that part of it which condemned Australia to teach her children nothing but the materialistic doctrine of the secularist sect, and forbade her to establish her religions.

SINN FEIN must also face the risks of the glorious enterprise of political liberty. If it makes conditions with liberty by refusing to accept it except on conditions of fiscal automony and the like, it will get government without liberty, and serve it right! In federating with the Britannic Alliance, it will have to give the Alliance certain guarantees in return for the power and consequence Ireland will have as a member. But if it begins asking for guarantees from the Alliance that national self-government will not hurt it. it will justify the Scottish officer who said to me impatiently the other day, “Oh. let us give the wretched place (Ireland) its independence and make it a foreign power. Then we can conquer it and treat it as a conquered country and have no more nonsense about it.” That Scot was a man after my own heart. When France faced England and all Europe with the flag of liberty, and beat them, it was not with the cry of “Security, security, and still more security,” but “Audacity, audacity, and still more audacity.” When Germany lost her nerve and, instead of taking her chance with western democracy, wanted security, she plunged herself and dragged the rest of Europe into the black slavery of war, and destroyed even the commonest securities of life and property which are practicable for all civilized nations. And if we lose the war it will be through the terrors of those who would lose the substance of victory in a frantic snatch at the shadow of security. Liberty is not a shelter for weaklings and children, it is an adventure for the brave and strong.

It remains only for the convention secretariat to draft the bill. All they need is a pair of scissors, a pot of paste, a set of copies of the British North America Act, 1867, the Commonwealth of Australia Constitutional Act, 1900, and the South African Act, 1909, with a few special clauses which 1 shall be happy to supply if necessary. Then strike out the Colonial names and figures and replace them with Irish ones and the thing is done.